President Donald Trump provoked his own national anthem controversy on Monday night, first booed as he took the field before a big college American football game and then appearing to mumble and stumble his way through the words to the Star Spangled Banner.

Social media lit up with commentators wondering whether he had forgotten the words and reigniting speculation about his mental health.

Critics took glee in pointing out how Mr Trump had railed against football players failing to respect the national anthem.

He was appearing at the College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs in Atlanta.

There was further controversy when an Alabama running back was picked up by microphones dismissing the American president with a shouted expletive. 

Mr Trump has criticised professional football players who kneel during the anthem to protest racial injustice, as well as the NFL itself for allowing it.

"We want our flag respected," he said earlier in the day during a speech in Nashville, Tennessee, "and we want our national anthem respected also."

There was no such kneeling protest before the game as college players remain in their locker rooms during the anthem.

However, many people watching on TV thought they spotted the president struggling with the words as the Zac Brown Band struck up.

He manages the early part with, "Say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…proudly we hailed," but then seems to garble some words before opting to stay mute.

Spotting a camera, he pats his chest, before picking up some of the words again later.

Many observers were unimpressed, pointing out that Mr Trump had adopted a position as guardian of the anthem.

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